Trimaran vs Catamaran: What are the Differences?

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Every year, thousands of you sail the seas of the globe aboard a sailing or motor multihulls. 

The cruising catamarans are pretty convincing, but if you try a trimaran you could be seduced and adopt it! If trimarans are often associated with racing and speed, such as the Edmond de Rothschild maxi trimaran, there is now a wide range available for yachting, very comfortable and accessible to luxury cruises.

The main difference between these two multihulls is the extra hull of a trimaran compared to a catamaran. If everyone can differentiate a multihull from a monohull, the characteristics that distinguish one multihull from another are more difficult to identify. 

Living space, seaworthiness, speed, we explain all the differences between a trimaran and a catamaran.

Performance and Stability: two distinct sailing experiences

The stability of multihulls compared to a monohull

On a sailboat, the wind makes the boat go forward and lean in its direction. On monohulls, the keel under the hull is there to prevent the boat from drifting and the ballast from capsizing. Therefore, in strong winds, a monohull will list. 

Multihulls, on the other hand, are helped more by their floats which resist immersion. The catamaran will have peaceful navigation and will not heel unlike the monohull, but it can be uncomfortable in heavy seas. 

On the contrary, the 3 hulls of the pleasure trimaran give it great stability, like the small wheels you add to a bicycle. Thus, even in rough seas, the shape of the floats makes the recreational trimarans particularly stable and comfortable to sail.

The wind and its influence on the performance

When the wind pushes a boat to the side or upwind, it is necessary to counteract the thrust of the wind and this compensating thrust is obtained by the hull and the daggerboard. 

When sailing, a trimaran is better at getting upwind than a catamaran, which is more prone to drifting. Trimarans are therefore faster than catamarans and this difference is very significant when sailing into the wind thanks to the centering of the weight in the central hull which limits pitching. 

As a result, trimarans are generally more efficient than catamarans.

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Surface area: different living spaces

In recent years, catamarans have flooded the seas of the world with increasingly large and luxurious models, with sailing catamarans such as the Lagoon Seventy 7, the Allegria 67 from Fountaine Pajot, or motor catamarans such as the Sunreef Power 70.

Indeed, catamarans are very popular for their spacious living areas, divided between their two hulls and their central platform. 

Among the habitable cruising trimarans, we can mention the DragonFly and its “Swing Wing” system which benefits from a pleasant interior, or the “Rapido Trimaran”, built in Vietnam by the Morrelli & Melvin architect firm.  

Finally, the trimarans from the Naval NEEL shipyard stand out, offering real floating hotels thanks to the addition of a living area above the central hull, the “Cockloon®”. It forms an uninterrupted area between the saloon and the cockpit. The floats are reserved for the cabins. So, the boat has a central kitchen, a saloon with a panoramic view, and cabins on the same level with a lounge. The flybridge also benefits from a large surface.

The renowned NEEL 65, for example, is an atypical and innovative trimaran. Its volume is enlarged to offer spacious cabins while its central hull, perfectly aligned with the anchor line, guarantees stability and comfort at anchor. 

The central platform offers more living space than can be found on catamarans of equivalent size.

Safety: the width of trimarans guarantees safety

The trimaran is the safest of the multihulls thanks to its design on three hulls, its complete anti-drift plan, and the centering of its weights. 

The differences in righting torques between a catamaran and a trimaran are significant. With a maximum righting moment of 27° of heel, a trimaran is very difficult to capsize whereas this moment is 12° for catamarans, an angle that can be reached in gusty winds in very short seas. 

Moreover, even if the trimaran is about to capsize, its structure would prevent it from sinking, which makes it a very safe boat.

In general, multihulls are safe and easy to control.

How to make the right choice between a monohull, a catamaran, and a trimaran?

Whatever your cruising project and the sailing area, it is important to choose the right boat according to your desires and the desired program.

Choose a monohull sailboat if you like sailing!

It allows you to sail better upwind, to get away from the coast.

You will be able to observe magnificent panoramas with the simple rustle of the wind in the sails. Also, with a sailboat, you won’t have to worry about finding space in a marina.

With large monohulls that have retractable keels, you can also easily anchor in shallow waters.

Prefer a multihull for the volume

The catamaran is popular with families or groups who like peaceful sailing and the comfort of its living space. It has several cabins per hull with bathrooms that allow more intimacy. The volume of a catamaran is appreciable. But be careful, this gain is only true for boats from 12m, otherwise, it is better to opt for a monohull. Also, if you plan to sail in rough seas, be aware that the catamaran’s windward grip can make maneuvering difficult and anchoring rough. In this case, you can try Catana’s catamarans with daggerboards.

While catamarans are more common around the world, pleasure trimarans are starting to seduce more and more cruising and thrill-seeking enthusiasts. Trimarans are fast, offer pleasant sailing conditions, and much better performance than catamarans. The new recreational trimarans offer living space comparable to catamarans of equivalent size. They are therefore perfect companions for pleasant cruising and even transatlantic crossings.

The NEEL 51 TRILOGY by Windward Islands, for example, combines the performance and safety of a trimaran with the space of a cruising catamaran. The NEEL rigs are directly inspired by racing trimarans and allow cruising speeds twice as high as other cruising yachts on the market. 

The big news for 2021 is the arrival of hybrid motor trimarans such as the LEEN 72, which offers the usual Neel Trimaran habitability on a motor boat.

 Read more: LEEN 72′: The Future of Hybrid Trimarans is Here.

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